I’ve been running on empty for a while.
Truth is, despite all my writing about taking breaks and building in recovery time, this still happens far too often.
I’m skilled at spotting when others are weary. But I still have a deep-seated belief that I am somehow immune, or that I just need to do one last thing before I allow myself a rest. (And then another thing. And another. Does that sound familiar, at all?)
Then, last week, I had a minor stomach bug that kept me up most of the night. The following morning, I realised that I had no urgent appointments. So I went back to sleep, and ended up staying in bed. For three days.
It was wonderful, this duvet retreat.
I slept a lot, ate very little, drank water by the gallon. Slowly, I worked my way through a substantial online course I’d been putting off, making copious notes on my laptop. I caught up on some reading. Listened to a few talks and podcasts.
But mainly there was a lot of staring into space, napping, and luxuriating in that delicious, dozy time between being asleep and fully awake, when your mind wanders and makes odd connections, and new ideas float gently to the surface.
I want to acknowledge that not all of us can take to our beds this way. My son is an adult, my husband is happy cooking for himself after work, my elderly mum has excellent carers.
And the timing was perfect. I’d been planning to write over those three days, but the deadlines are all distant enough that I can still manage the work.
My point here is more about what happened in this space, and why it might be useful to plan something similar for yourself, every so often.
So here’s the real surprise.
I was trying to rest, recover and catch up on sleep. But this time out gave me some distance on things, and it turned out to be far more productive than I’d imagined.
By day three, the ideas were coming so fast that the bed felt crowded, and I was wide awake, writing notes and turning ideas into projects with clear tasks and next steps.
I’m a writer, and I’m also a coach working with creative professionals. Suddenly I had a structure for two new group courses, outlines for some digital products to support busy creatives, and even lists of new blog posts for 2023.
I made some tweaks to my coaching practice, to make it fit my lifestyle better. I saw exactly what was wrong with the book I’m currently working on, and how to fix it. Then a concept for my next book grew out of this thinking, along with a wealth of smaller projects and articles I can’t wait to start working on.
Staying in bed was surprisingly productive.
So much so that I’m planning to do it three or four times a year, from now on (minus the stomach bug part, obvs).
This is partly because I need to rest more. Most of us do. As the author, tech pioneer and all-round good human Kevin Kelly once observed, “If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep.”
But mainly because staying in bed turned out to be a cheap, easy and incredibly comforting way to retreat from the world for a while. It gave me time to think, to take stock of what was working for me and what was not. It allowed me to consider what I already knew , digest it, and think how I might use it, rather than endlessly chasing after more information, more stories, more inputs.
Like most creatives, I love new and shiny ideas.
But sometimes you need to go deep, to examine what you have already rather than gather in more. New ideas can also be fragile, flighty, tentative things: it’s easy to lose them if we don’t capture them, get them down in some concrete form, then act on them.
We all need to take time out every so often, to zoom out and see the bigger picture, and to work on our business rather than in it. To decide if we’re spending our time and energy in the best possible way, to see what’s draining us, where the obstacles are — and what to do about that.
Most of all, we need warmth, light and space for the seeds of new ideas to sprout and take root. Sometimes, being totally unproductive is the most productive thing we can do.
So how do you retreat and get some distance on your work? And how do you create space for new ideas?
Sheryl Garratt is a writer, and a coach helping experienced creatives of all kinds get the success they want, making work they truly love. Get The Creative Companion, my bi-weekly email packed with articles, links and resources for creative professionals. (Or those who want to be.) It’s free!
About the Creator
Sheryl Garratt is a former editor of The Face and Observer magazines, and has written professionally for more than 30 years. She is also a coach working with creatives of all kinds. Find her at thecreativelife.net